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Education Blog



4 April, 2016

Credit system is one of the primary methods used to determine and document that students have met academic requirements, generally at the high school level.

Awarded upon completing and passing a course or required school program.

  • Most public high schools require students to accumulate it to earn a diploma.
  • While schools and districts determine credit requirements, states require schools to have minimum credit requirements in place. For example, a state might require students to earn a minimum of 18 credits to be eligible for a high school diploma, but a school may choose to increase credit requirements to 24 credits or higher.
  • Minimum requirements in the following subject areas: English language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, health, physical education, technology, and world languages. Schools also typically require students to earn a certain number of “elective” credits as well, and elective courses can span a wide variety of subject areas, including those listed above.


  1. Some states have sought to raise educational expectations, increase instructional time in certain subject areas, and improve student preparation by raising minimum its requirements. For example, state regulations may ask public high school students to complete four “years” of English and math—the equivalent of four credits in each subject—but only two or three years of science and social studies.
  2. As a way to promote stronger student preparation in science and social studies, states may decide to increase credit requirements. Other subject areas, such as technology, health, or world language, for example, have also been subject to increases in minimum credit requirements.
  3. Districts and schools may also elect to increase credit requirements independently, and some education organizations have recommended stronger credit requirements as a strategy for promoting higher academic achievement and more prepared graduates. In effect, increasing credit requirements in a given subject area increases the amount of time students will be taught, which increases the likelihood that they will be better educated in that subject area.


  • Some might argue, for example, that credits are a simple, widely used way for schools to ensure that students receive a certain amount of instructional time in important subject areas. They may also point out that minimum credit requirements imposed by states have been effective in raising educational expectations and improving student preparation in critical subject areas.
  • Critics of credit-based systems will likely echo the points made above, questioning whether credits should be used at all provided that they are an imprecise way to measure learning acquisition and academic accomplishment. Credits, they may contend, provide a false sense of security: while having earned credit make it appear that students are learning—i.e., they have passed courses—credits may in fact be misleading and misrepresentative, since students are often able to earn credit even though they have failed to learn what the course was intended to teach.
  • To others, schools should instead be measuring what students have learned or not learned—using time-based requirements such as credits, rather than learning-acquisition requirements such as learning standards, will simply allow students to continue passing courses, moving onto the next grade level, and graduating even though they may lack important knowledge and skills.